The prevailing theme for trades made, appears to be the acquisition of cap space. Expiring contract are more in demand this time of year, than the acquisition of a player who can help a team progress towards the goal of embracing the Larry O’Brien trophy.
In the past, the playoff contenders were the teams that were wheeling-and-dealing for young, up-and-coming stars. While the Draft Lottery teams were the ones who take the aging stars in order to build towards a better future.
The biggest name that appears is Rudy Gay, and that trade happened on January 30th. The Memphis Grizzlies made the trade to unload salary rather than a complaint about Gay’s recent play. The rest of the trades involved taking on bad expiring contracts, giving up of 2nd round picks that teams feel may not yield a player of value or the acquisition of salary cap relief in the form of a trade exception.
The new strategy being employed appears to center around using the trade deadline as a tool to dump salary/bad contracts in order to create cap space for the signing big name free agents during the off season.
Cap space, while a great chip to have, can be a very dangerous asset to have. When Miami’s “Big 3," of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh were formed, if the player you covet decides to sign somewhere else what will you do with all the extra cap space that you have?
Numerous teams were forced to give players bigger contracts than their play merited in order to have it appear that their plans blew up in their faces.
Of these trades, one trade involved a team that wasn’t in the middle of a playoff push (the 2012 Washington Wizards trading away JaVale McGee) trying to find a way to deeper in to the Playoffs.
During the past 30 years, the purpose of the trade deadline has gone from a tool to help a team improve to a way to rid a team of a disgruntled player and eventually, to the current model where it is used to acquire cap space for the off season.
So to all GMs if your focus is on creating cap space for a player that may sign in the offseason, then don’t be surprised if you are watching someone else standing on the podium and kissing the Larry O’Brien trophy.